Death and Vanilla

Are You a Dreamer?

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On their third album, Are You a Dreamer?, the Swedish trio Death and Vanilla alter their mode of operations in tiny ways while still managing to make a record that plays like the soundtrack to the most relaxing and restful dream imaginable. The soft banks of vintage synths, smeary swathes of melancholy Mellotron, gently twangy surf guitar, deftly exploratory bass, and Marleen Nilsson's faded pastel vocals are all firmly in place and arranged in precise fashion. The songs are flowing and serene, more apt to envelope the listener in a web of soft sonic comfort than dazzle them with showy hooks. These parts of the equation are all familiar and welcome; the album is very much of a piece with the group's impressively crafted back catalog. Songs like the slowly unfolding, peacefully melodic "Let's Never Leave Here" and the dramatic, cinematic "Nothing Is Real" plot the boundaries of their sound, and most of the rest of the album falls nicely in between. The very lovely "A Flaw in the Iris" is the track with the most melodic appeal and allows a little bit of darkness to creep into the proceedings, just around the edges where one can barely see it. It's there, though, and a couple other tracks are a little bluer, a little more unsettled than any on past Death and Vanilla records. This is one of the small alterations they made to their sound and it suits them well, giving the record a little more depth and forcing the listener to dig a little and not just drift away on the beautiful sounds. The other change was the addition of a live drummer, something they hadn't done before. Måns Wikenmo's playing is suitable restrained and he fits very well within the arrangements, usually laying back but sometimes filling space with fills and crashes. It gives the songs a live band feel instead of a cloistered studio project, and while that could have been a very big deal, Death and Vanilla make it sound like a natural progression. Despite -- or maybe thanks in part to -- the subtle sonic transformations, Are You a Dreamer? is another transcendent album from a group who truly understand how to conjure up soft emotions out of dream-like sounds and just-so arrangements.

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